The canoe launch at Union Street Bridge in Marshfield, on the North River.

Born in Rockland and raised in Marshfield, I grew up on the South Shore. I liked it well enough as a child, but by the time I was eighteen, I was ready to leave, ready to explore the rest of the world.

I spent a few years away, but unlike most of my friends, I decided to come back here after college. Amherst, Boston, and Cambridge offered social and cultural opportunities that I knew would be rare on the South Shore, but none of those places could provide the one thing that was most important to me: the North River.

It wasn’t always that way for me. Growing up, I’d heard about the North River, and even seen it from the bridges at Routes 3 and 3A. I went canoeing there once with my parents, but it failed to make a strong impression on me. If you had asked me back then to describe the North River I most likely would have cited the awful way it smelled at low tide.

That all changed about ten years ago. I was fifteen, and I’d just met a young man who saw the North River in a very different way. His name was Ted and he loved to go out on the water, for no other reason than to explore. Sometimes he’d borrow a friend’s canoe, but other times he’d just inflate his two-person rubber raft, grab a couple of paddles and a cooler full of snacks, and go “floating.”

One August afternoon,Ted invited me along on such an expedition. We carried the raft across the marsh near Route 3 and spent the day floating downstream with the outgoing tide, paddling only when we absolutely needed to, until we drifted to shore near Damons Point.

Moving along at that slow pace allowed me to experience the river in an entirely new way. There were countless sights, scents, and sounds to behold. Ted pointed out hawks and redwing blackbirds overhead, and directed my attention to the intricacies of the riverbank and the creatures that inhabit it. I smelled the earthy scent of mud combined with marsh grass and salt air, and heard the delicate trickle of the marsh creeks and the rustle of the wind in the reeds.

By the end of the day the North River had taken on a whole new meaning for me. It was as if I had discovered buried treasure. It had been there all along, but not until I looked carefully was I able to find it.

The South Shore is filled with such hidden treasures, and that’s one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to live here. We’ve got several wildlife sanctuaries, scores of publicly-owned walking places, and an abundance of rivers and streams, many of which are navigable only by small non-motorized boats.

What better way to spend a warm spring day than exploring one of these “hidden” waterways by canoe, kayak, or rubber raft? The North, South, Indian Head, Green Harbor, and Jones Rivers, among others, are all worthy of investigation.

Each of these waterways offers its own unique natural features.

Twelve miles in length, the North River meanders through Hanover, Pembroke, Norwell, Marshfield, and Scituate, winding its way through forest, meadow, and marsh en route to the sea. Launch areas on the North include Marshfield’s Damon’s Point and Union Street Bridge, Norwell’s King’s Landing and Chittenden Lane, and Pembroke’s Brick Kiln Lane. Access is also available via the Herring River from Scituate’s Driftway Conservation Area, and via the Indian Head River, off Riverside Drive in Hanover.

The Indian Head River, one of the North’s major tributaries, flows through Hanover, Hanson, and Pembroke, from dense upland forest to freshwater marsh. There are launch areas at Cross Street in South Hanover and at the fish ladder on Elm Street on the Hanover/Pembroke line. The Indian Head combines serene flatwater with a few sets of Class II rapids, thus it is not recommended for the beginning paddler. More experienced canoeists, kayakers, and rafters might enjoy the excitement this five-mile stream offers.

The South River is navigable from Marshfield Center to its confluence with the North River at Fourth Cliff in Humarock, although all but the most experienced paddlers should avoid the dangerous and unpredictable river mouth. Launch sites include Marshfield’s Willow Street Bridge, the Town Landing on Ferry Street, and the inland side of Rexhame Beach, via the dunes. The navigable portion of the South River is predominantly salt marsh, a haven for wildlife and waterfowl. It opens into a wide estuary as it reaches Rexhame Beach and Humarock, offering breathtakingly beautiful sunsets.

Both the North and South Rivers are influenced by the ocean’s tides, and boating trips can be challenging if they are not planned well, especially in narrow places such as bridges and railroad abutments. Consult a tide chart before heading out. High tide at the Union Street Bridge is about 1 hour later than the Boston high, while at the Hanover Canoe Launch it is generally three hours later. At Willow Street on the South River, the tide will be 1-2 hours late.

Due to a set of gates at Route 139, Marshfield’s Green Harbor River is not influenced by the tides. This lesser-known waterway features some of the most pristine river views in the area, flowing through a portion of Audubon’s Daniel Webster Sanctuary, as well as a small airport and the Green Harbor Golf Course. It is also a prime birding spot, known for its wide variety of ducks, heron, flycatchers and warblers. Launching is possible from the steep embankments at the Route 139 Bridge (across from the Compass Rose), as well as from a trail at Peter Igo Park, just south from there. There is also access from a bridge on Marshfield’s Webster Street, just north of the golf course.

Kingston’s Jones River is another tidal waterway worthy of exploration. Access is available from the town landing on River Street, from Landing Marine on Landing Road, and from Sampson Park at the Elm Street Bridge. The navigable portion of the river (downstream of Sampson Park) includes 4 miles of saltmarsh and upland. Above Sampson Park, the river grows narrow and shallow, passing through Kingston’s recently-acquired 77-acre Hathaway Property; this section of the stream is only navigable in winter and spring.

Make your paddling trip safer and more enjoyable by following a few precautions:

The Coast Guard dictates that personal flotation devices (PFD’s) must be worn from October to May, and carried in the boat — one for each person — the rest of the year. If you’re envisioning those dreaded orange encumbrances from times past, don’t dismay. PFD’s now come in a variety of colors and styles, designed especially for the active paddler.

Pay attention to wind and tides. Blustery days can make for unpleasant paddling trips, especially when the wind stirs up waves.

Be prepared. An extra paddle, a first aid kit, and rope are all important supplies to bring along, as well as the drinking water, sun protection, and foul weather gear you would carry on any outdoor excursion.

by Kezia Bacon, Assistant Director, North and South Rivers Watershed Association
June 1997